Chapters 24-39 of the book of the prophet Isaiah give a lot to reflect upon. There is hope, as well as the promise of destruction. There is also a presentation of Israel as it should be. Mixed into the oracles against the foreign nations, there are some gems of spirituality that can help live Lent more fruitfully.
As a centerpiece to interpret the other chapters, I suggest chapter 33, which presents God as a consuming fire and wonders who can be with him.
Overthrow of Assyria, 33:1-24
The chapter's title lacks cheerfulness, but there are a few passages that inspire the heart with prayer and peace.
Verse 2 would serve well as a morning prayer. The author requests God’s grace. This elevates the attention of the soul and puts it in a good disposition for prayer. “Be our strength every morning.” A habit of morning prayer helps to make sure that each day is lived intentionally. Morning prayer is the time to prepare for the day and receive power from God. It is also a good opportunity to receive marching orders from the Holy Spirit.
Encounter with God
Who can live with consuming fire? The image of God as fire brings us back to the Book of Exodus when Moses encountered God in the burning bush. It is a challenge to live in the presence of the Lord. As Catholics, we have the Eucharist, Christ sacramentally present, in our tabernacles in churches worldwide. Do we enter church conscious of the great mystery that we live there? I am always uncomfortable when people are conversing in a church. It seems to downplay the atmosphere of silence and respect that should reign there.
It is proposed that the righteous man can live with the consuming fire. This is because he is ready for the encounter with God. In ancient cultures, terror was associated with seeing a god since it meant death. It was one of the themes that Moses had to face. Here, the righteous one can see God and live.
Reward of the just
God promises a safe dwelling and a stronghold to the righteous. Safety and security are always a point of interest for us. We all harbor secret fears. To be just and righteous is to trust in the Lord and rejoice in his goodness. From the heights, you can see further. The righteous man can achieve a better perspective.
Lord as judge, lawgiver, and king
I was puzzled when I read the order of roles here. Why is "judge" first, and why is "king" last? The order seems backward. It is the king who is lawgiver and judge. Why does it begin with the judge? Then, I realized the pedagogical value of this order, for this is how we get to know God.
First, we see God as a judge through our experience of morality. We feel that somebody is watching us and our behavior. This is the stage that the philosopher Immanuel Kant emphasizes. It is a beginning of morality but a poor substitute for religion.
Second, we begin to relate with God as the one who has given the law. We recognize his authority and begin to respect him. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.” (Proverbs, 9:10) This is the beginning of a religious relationship.
Finally, we recognize his kingship in our lives and in the world. The poem is ending, asserting the absolute preeminence of God in our lives.
Judah’s praise and prayer for deliverance, 26:1-19.
This poem shows the blessings of God upon his people. A strong city is described, encouraging the people and appealing to God’s protection.
Blindness and perversity, 29:9-16.
The hypocrisy of those who fulfill religion only superficially is called out. Those who worship him with words alone are people of unclean lips, and their prayers do not rise to Heaven.
Against the Egyptian alliance, 31:1-9.
One major theme of the Old Testament is the temptation to “return to Egypt.” It is a clear choice between trust in God and trust in worldly power. The prophet cajoles the people to trust in the Lord.
The Kingdom of Justice, 32:1-8.
The fool speaks folly and plots evil. The poles of good and evil are represented clearly.
Chapter 25:1-5. Praise for the Lord fills the mouth of the righteous man. His promises have been fulfilled, and this brings joy.
Chapter 27:13. The Lord's triumph over the enemies of Israel inspires religious devotion and leads many to come to the mountain of the Lord to worship him.
Chapter 37:16-20. An anthropomorphic appeal to God reveals the deep desires of man to reach him. He is asked to open his eyes to see and to incline his ear to listen. He desires to achieve true contact with God.
Chapter 27:12. Like the wheat, the followers of the Lord will be gleaned. God will go through them and reveal what is hidden in many hearts. (Cf. Luke 2:5)
Chapter 25:6-8. The Lord is the first benefactor of the world. The description of his beneficence can inspire us to look out for the good of our neighbor.
Chapter 32:7-8. The noble plan and do noble deeds. Almsgiving is the sign of a good heart. Those who are good try to help others.
Chapter 35:4. God comes to rescue those who are suffering and in trouble. When we help our fellow man, we are the hands of God, allowing him to come to the aid of those who need him.
Questions for reflection
1. Do you have a habit of morning prayer?
2. Is your living of religion authentic or only exterior?
3. Where are you in accepting the kingship of God in your life?